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WAX CYLINDER NINETEEN

A Rooftop Encounter

   "What you mean it’s still ‘ere?” I asked as I splashed through a few puddles and nearly bumped into Woolfitt as he came to a halt.

   “Like many criminals,” Woolfitt whirled about and pointed a finger, “this fiend could not bear to make off and into the night without gloating over its handywork. I believe the creature has been watching the whole time.”

   “Yeah, but now we know he’s murderous, don’t we? Just like Miss Foxworthy suggested. Not just some mischievous sprite like you said.”

   “One is allowed one tiny mistake,” Woolfitt replied, sniffy-like. “And I wasn’t the only one who was wrong either. Miss Foxworthy opined that the apparition had designs purely on her household. Now it looks as though its nefarious activities have spilled into the streets of London.”

   “Aye, and with it another mystery, Woolfitt. What’s the Slipper King got to do with Black Cap Foxworthy?”

  “Who can say, Nimble? But hopefully, if we strike while the bedpan is hot, we’ll be able to answer that very question.” 

   We had now come to the end of the alley what stunk of open drains and rotten vegetables. The warren o’ narrow streets were thick with fog too, the only light coming from the mean little windows of the tenements about us. “Now,” Woolfitt went on, turning his eyes upward again, “there has to be some way to climb onto the roof.” 

   “Climb on the…You’re joking, ain’t ye! It’s three storeys up!”

   “Come now, Nimble! If we aim to capture the thing, you’re going to have to, aren’t you?”

   “Well, between you, me, and me elbow, I’m beginning to think that’s not such a good idea, Woolfitt—Miss Foxwrothy’s peace o’ mind or no. Besides, even if it were possible to…hang on, what do you mean ‘you’re’ going to have to’?”

   “You can’t very well expect me to do it. I have that gammy leg.”

   “Since when?”

   “I turned it the other day when I was entertaining Eileen Plums. She really is a vigorous girl. Doesn’t spare the horses if you know what I mean. In some ways, I was rather frightened of her.”

   “I don’t care about that. I ain’t doing this on me own. What if it’s up there, waiting?”

   “You can’t very well capture it if it isn’t.” Woolfitt thrust his hand into his pocket and fished out a witch bottle. “Now take this.”

   “Ere!” I looked at the bottle with surprise. “You carry one o’ them around with you all the time?”

   “One has to be prepared, Nimble. It’s the first line of defence for a Supernaturalist.” He thrust the bottle into me hands before heading a little farther into the alleyway where he came to a stop and pointed at a drainpipe. “Here we are. That’s the way. You can climb up there.”

    I looked at the drainpipe. It seemed to me rusty and ill-fixed.

   “I don’t want to do it.”

   “Then we can kiss goodbye a two-page spread in Eldritch Monthly, can’t we? Not only that, but you consign Miss Foxworthy and her father to an uncertain fate.”

   “But you just said the fiend weren’t targeting their household.”

   “Nonsense! I said the creature’s designs were not principally targeting the Foxworthys. If his rhyme is to be believed, there remains one more poor soul who might end up spiked on a set of railings like Rodney Fulsom-Jones. Besides, what do you think it will do when it discovers Judge Foxworthy is alive and well and without protection? Wouldn’t the apparition be tempted to finish the job? No, we have a duty to stop this thing in its tracks, Nimble. No matter the cost to our personal safety.”

   “You mean, my personal safety.”

   “Just hurry up. The longer we debate the matter, the less chance we have at success.”

   I pressed me lips together. What did I care for ol’ Black Cap Foxworthy anyhow? He’d stretched more necks than I’d had hot dinners, and was a grumpy ol’ geezer to boot. Even so, I studied the pipe again, fighting a pang o’ conscience. After all, Woolfitt did have a point. Somewhere, maybe close by, there stalked a horror what was harming people. And without the help o’ the police, who was to say who would be next?

I glanced at Woolfitt queasy-like. “And you think this witch bottle will be enough?”

   “I designed that bottle myself, Nimble. Double the thickness of iron in the lining. Its power is more effective than the bullet from a revolver when it comes to the ghostly.”

   “I hope you’re right.”

   “I am. As always. So, let’s get on with it. Climb up and follow the roof going south. That’s the direction the spirit compass is telling me. I will keep up on the ground and offer directions.”

Safe on the ground, I thought. And, cursing me ill-luck for being younger, and spritelier, and less full o’ booze, I stuffed the witch bottle between me belt and me breeches and approached the drainpipe.

  It looked an awful long way up n’ all. Not only that, it had been an awful while since I’d scurried about on rooftops. I licked me lips. I hoped the drainpipe would hold. Then I spat on me palms, rubbed me hands together vigorous-like, and clasped the greasy drainpipe, beginning to pull meself up and using the spikes of me golf shoes to give me better grip.

Not that it were easy, I don’t mind telling ye. Took all o’ me skill and strength to drag meself up, and every now and again one o’ me feet slipped, and I was sure I would take a tumble. Still, after a lot o’ perseverance, a lot o’ sweat, and a lot o’ puffing, I slowly inched me way along, past one storey, then the next, until I managed to reach a few fingers to some moss-ridden guttering and dragged meself onto the lip o’ the roof.

   If anything, it were foggier up there high above the street, as I rolled off me side and turned back to the edge o’ the roof. Below I could hardly see Woolfitt through a cats’ cradle o’ washing lines attached to the tenements opposite. He was little more than a thin grey shadow.

   “You alright?” came Woolfitt’s echoing voice below.

   “I made it!” I gasped.

   “See anything?”

   Wiping a slick o’ sweat off me forehead, I turned me eyes across the eerie landscape around me. Chimneys, like ancient monoliths in the fog, was crowding the sloping roof. All were quiet and murky-like.

   “No! Can’t say that I do.”

   “Well, he must be around there somewhere.”

   I swallowed at the prospect o’ that, and climbed up from me knees, putting me hand to me catapult what hung on me belt just in case. Not that I thought it would do much good. Not with ghosts anyhow. I learnt that lesson to me cost during The Case o’ the Spectral Organist. 

   “Try a little farther along,” Woolfitt’s voice drifted up to me again. “I’ll follow below.”

   “Fine,” I muttered to meself, and I started up the incline o’ the roof, me golf shoes giving me good purchase, until I reached the peak where I could get a little better view around. All was shrouded by fog. I could now hear the chattering of the gathered crowd from the street below on the other side o’ the building, and the dull jingle and bright clop o’ horses’ hooves. But there was nothing untoward as far as I could see, and that gave me some relief. It looked like whatever had been watching from the roof had long since departed, no matter what Woolfitt’s compass might ‘ave said.

   “Well?” Woolfitt’s voice sounded impatient below.

   I sighed and headed back down the roof, coming to stand on the brink again. I squinted down into the fog. Woolfitt were now standing under a puttering gaslight. 

   “There ain’t nothing up ‘ere, Woolfitt,” I called down. “I’ve looked all over.”

   “You sure?”

   “Ye can come up ‘ere yesself if you don’t believe me.”

   “I would if I could, Nimble, but as I categorically told you earlier, my….”

   But Woolfitt’s voice trailed off.

   I frowned. It weren’t like Woolfitt to pass up an opportunity to tell me about his ailments. But for some reason, he’d gone all quiet.

   “What?” I called back. “What’s the matter then?”

   Below, Woolfitt were motionless.

   “Cat finally got ye tongue now has it?”

   And then I became aware of the green light.

   Now, as I was staring down at Woolfitt, I hadn’t noticed it at first. I was too busy waiting for some clever reply. Then, as I planted me hands on me hips, a green glow soaked all about me, creeping over me shoulders and through me legs and throwing up a great, dark shadow across the building opposite. Even so, it took me a few seconds o’ dull confusion before me mind cottoned-on to what was happening, and a squirming dread took hold deep inside me. Right then, I knew I were in trouble.

   I turned almost glacial-like, not really wanting to see what was stood behind me. But it didn’t help to stave off the bad news. For when I finally swung about, squinting against that fearful brilliant glare, I was confronted by the worst possible outcome.

   No wonder old Judge Foxworthy had fallen into an insensible stupor. I mean, I’ve seen some pretty hideous things in my time: The Case o’ the Hideous Thing springs to mind. But here was something altogether more frightening even than them, as I stared at that monstrous visage.

   Just as Miss Foxworthy had described, ‘ere was the body o’ a wrinkly old man, dressed in what looked like a dirty old shroud, but surrounded by a sickly green glow. Eyes like a couple o’ bullseye lanterns was fixed upon me, and hands like talons twitched at his sides. And if that weren’t awful enough, a terrible grin formed on that gaunt, pruned face revealing a long line of cracked yellow teeth. Yep. It was bad news all ‘round as far as I could see, and I was in a pretty poor fix.

   “Oh. Hallo there…” I managed in a voice all squeaky-like.

   The apparition’s grin widened. I noticed its long, dirty white hair was writhing like a nest o’ snakes. “And who…exactly…are you?” came a deep and rasping voice.

   I stiffened hearing that croak. It sounded like it was coming from the depths of a tomb. “Me? I…I’m Nimble…” I whispered.

   “Nimble?” the creature looked me up and down. “And what kind of name is that?”

   “It’s…it’s me only one. The name I’ve always had since I was a nipper.”

   “Is that right? Well, Nimble…I expect you’re one of them, ain’t ye?” and the creature jerked its head behind him to the edge o’ the roof.

   “Them?” I asked tremulous-like.

   “Aye! The coppers is what I mean. The Law! They thinks they can do for me again, can they? Well, they’ll not have a chance this time. Not now. You mark my words.”

   “I…I’m afraid I don’t know what ye talking about.”

   “Is that right? So, you’re not up ‘ere on the roof to pinch me, is that it?”

   “Pinch ye? Me? Naw!”

   “You sure about that?”

   But before I could open me gob to answer again, a voice drifted up from below: “Nimble? Nimble! Are you alright? Speak to me!”

   I managed to turn me head slightly while keeping me eyes firmly fixed on the monstrosity before me. “What!”  I snapped.       “I’m a little busy at the minute.”

   “The bottle you fool! Take out the bottle and uncork it! That’ll snag the creature!” 

   Then the glowing, green old man—who was only a few paces from me now—narrowed them hideous eyes. “Who’s that below?” he demanded.

   “Him?” I lowered me trembling hand toward me belt where the witch bottle were jammed. “Oh, he’s…he’s no one, is he? Prolly some old tramp or drunk who’s relieving hisself in the alley.”

   “Then how come he knows ye name?”

   That were a stumper. And me hand stopped short o’ me breeches as them horrible green eyes o’ the creature dropped down to where the witch bottle was lodged. Now them eyes, they glowed even brighter, and from those cracked lips, the creature croaked, dangerous-like: “So what’s that ye got there? What ye mean to do with that old bottle?”

   I felt me heart skip a beat. “What bottle?” I said, affecting as much innocence as I could muster.

   “Why that bottle!” The monster poked out a hideous, clawed finger at where me hand were hovering over me belt. The old man’s mouth curled down into a leer then, and that dancing hair seemed to bristle in agitation. “Oh, I see now,” he said. “I see your game! For I can feel the peril o’ that there bottle like a terrible ache. It’s meant to capture me, is that it? To gobble me up, considering the new state of me being. Well, I tell you now, that won’t work on me! The Fiendish Nudger won’t be taken a second time. I’m far stronger now than I’ve ever been!”

   I blinked at that. For it took me a second or two to fully appreciate what the horror were talking about.

   “The Fiendish Nudger, did ye say?” Me eyes widening. “That’s who ye is?”

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